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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 11th June 2009 Thread Starter
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Whats in Petrol?

We put the question to someone in the know, this was his reply.

We found it very informative and a good read so thought we would share.

Well…………! In The Beginning there was Carbon and Hydrogen. These got together in accordance with rules forged in the Big Bang (yes, really!) to make methane, one carbon atom with 4 hydrogens stuck on. A bit later, (only 4000 million years) other atoms started getting together and finally came up with Life, a self-reproducing chemical mix. The reproducing bit was quite fun, but after 600 million years even that gets boring in spite of variations illustrated on page…….(not really Bike Magazine’s thing. See specialist EMAP literature.) So, a more or less intelligent life-form invented The Motorcycle, the ultimate boredom cure. This was, and is, powered by the Internal Combustion Engine, which must have fuel. Methane is a fuel, which means it burns in air to produce energy, but unfortunately it’s a gas; a tank-full would propel a Honda 50 for about half a mile. But! Methane had not been idle since the formation of planet Earth, and had joined up with more carbons and hydrogens to make chains called ‘hydrocarbons’. Well, they weren’t called that at the time. They had to wait for a life-form to evolve that liked giving things names, and a hundred and 20-odd years ago chemists had to learn Latin, so they called the one with five carbons ‘pentane’, the 6-carbon one ‘hexane’, then ‘heptane’ then ….wait for it…. the 8-carbon one ‘octane’ and so on. (If we were naming them now the last one would be called ‘eightane’ so you would need 95 minimum REN for your bike engine.) All these things were liquids, very thin and volatile, and pure concentrated energy. The Hildebrand and Wolfmuller (rough 1894 equivalent of the Honda 50) now did 100 miles to the tank full.

Unlike water, these liquids don’t stand around in lakes. They are hidden underground in porous rock so you have to drill for them. The old name was ‘petroleum’ meaning ‘rock oil ’ but this was soon shortened to ‘petrol’. The petrol came out of the wells mixed with heavy oil , so it had to be distilled off in an oil refinery. Early on, the pale coloured stuff that evaporated easily and caught fire very easily was sold as internal combustion engine fuel. It was a simple as that. ‘Octane Number’ hadn’t been invented, but in modern terms this ‘light petroleum fraction’ was about 50 Octane. Now we all know that in the GCSE Science engine The Piston squeezes the air/fuel mixture, then The Spark Plug ignites it to produce The Power Stroke. The trouble is, with 50 octane fuel if The Piston squeezes too much the heat generated by compression makes the stuff Go Bang prematurely before The Spark Plug gets a look in, giving a Power Stroke with as much push as a fairy’s fart. This is why early engines couldn’t use compression ratios above 4 : 1, and 10BHP per litre was seen as hot stuff. Engines improved but petrol didn’t and even some time after WW 1 a touring 1000cc bike engine only turned out about 25BHP, and a hot-shot Sport version with the latest overhead valves would need a good tuner to get 50BHP. (On the other hand, a 30BHP 500 single could win the TT.)
(The early 1930s 1000cc V-twin in the photo has a 5 : 1 compression ratio and makes 25 brake if thrashed. It is also very heavy; I know, I’ve got one. I can only lift it onto the bench with the assistance of certain Magic Words.)

So finally some effort was made to stop primitive petrol going bang too soon, and a variable compression engine was invented for research. (The ‘CFR’ engine, as used for finding Research and Motor Octane Numbers, RON and MON, to this very day.) Early on researchers found that the bung in the CFR head could be really screwed down if a heavy liquid called ‘TEL’ (tetra ethyl lead) was added. This was really effective and cheap, and allowed the ‘straight’ petrol to be upped to 90 or even 100 octane, and a whole load of exciting high-power engines were designed around these fuels. This leaded fuel survived into the late 1990s, but much earlier an amazing discovery had been made. The shape of the petrol molecules was very important. ‘Octane’ if the ‘straight eight’ version with 8 carbons in a row had an ‘octane number’ of 25. It was only the mutant octane with 5 carbons down the middle and the others sticking out from the sides that gave the best results at high compression. (This special octane is still used as a standard for 100 octane. Proper name is 2,2,4-trimethyl pentane.)

Today, ‘petrol’ is really a synthetic fluid built up from oil industry feedstocks. Very little of it is unmodified distillate from crude oil . It is tailor made to include the best compression-resisting molecules so that no poisonous and polluting lead compounds are needed to reach 95 or even 98 octane. Nothing much is added, apart from a touch of detergent to keep the engine top end clean. Quite a lot of petrol now has 5% ‘renewable’ alcohol as a planet-saving gesture, but this also improves the octane number (by about 1 ) so there’s nothing wrong with that. Anyway, if you have a biking holiday instead of flying ComaJet, you are keeping that carbon footprint down….and paying too much tax as well…..but that’s another story.


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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 8th July 2009
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Hi Guy, can we have one of these on Diesel?

I was trying to find a source of 2-ethyl hexyl nitrate but only found a mixed additive from the local motor factor store, it seemed to improve the performance of a 530d BMW, but it was expensive.

Any views on how much this actually helps BHP in Diesel with and without remap?

Also, any opinions on Diesel remapping, it seems to have a bigimpact on power and torque without touching compsumption too much, but I don't see combustion by product data in the marketing stuff. Is that becuase the OEM's have to squeeze in the emissions rules and remapping kills this aspect?
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 8th July 2009 Thread Starter
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To be honest I dont know enough about fuels, oil is my thing

But I will ask the men in the know and see what they say.


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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 8th July 2009
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Super, thanks.

So, oil .

Got 5 liters of fairly expensive fully synthetic oil in my DCi, clearly full of very small soot particulates, do you think I can just change the filter and leave the oil in? What chemical / physical properties are likely to change over time that will affect the important properties?

The 530d I had used FS and had 178,000 miles on the clock and honestly, the internals looked as good as new.

Diesels run cooler than Petrols and don't pull the RPM's so the oil *should* be in great shape pretty much for ever I guess?

My old petrol S80 2.4 had fully synthetic Castrol oil and looked as good as new when it was changed. In fact I got the Volvo dealer to keep it for me and its been doing my mower justice ever since - still nice and golden after 5 years!
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 8th July 2009
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Petrol contains Naptha... its the really nasty evil stuff that gives it the nasty smell (and also gives you cancer if you smell it enough) its used as a thinning agent. They use it to flush the gunk in the engine oil when you change the oil .
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